How did Novak do it? Djokovic’s 14th Grand Slam victory at the 2018 US Open

Novak Djokovic is back!  He’s been relentless this year winning his 13th Grand Slam overall at the 2018 Wimbledon Championships, followed by a win at the Western & Southern Open.  Not only does Djokovic share the distinction of having won all 4 Grand Slams with Federer and Nadal, but sweeping the 9 Masters events is a point of differentiation.  Federer has won seven of the nine Masters Titles, lacking Monte Carlo and Rome; while Nadal is missing Miami, Shanghai, and Paris.  After distinguishing himself from Federer and Nadal, Novak stormed through the US Open defeating Juan Martin del Potro 6–3, 7–6(7–4), 6–3 earning his 14th Grand Slam victory and joining Pete Sampras (3rd overall) for the most Grand Slams in history.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve released a couple of videos featuring the Top 7 First Strike Forehands and the Top 7 First Strike Backhands.  After going through the analytics of Djokovic’s 14th Grand Slam victory, the data from this match reinforce the importance of practicing the First 4 Shots.

As I geared up to watch the US Open Final, I knew at least one person that would be close to the action and thus suspected what kind of strategy Novak was going to attempt to employ against the gentle giant.  So as a good student of the Numb2rs, I grabbed some snacks, the remote, and watch every second of the Finals with pen and paper in hand.  After 3 hours and 15 minutes, I had the data.  After 10 hours of analyzing and creating this article, I would like to share with you a perspective that even ESPN is not going to give out, mainly because they don’t have it to share – so, let’s get started.

Chart 1

Screenshot 2018-09-22 00.57.14

Chart 2

Screenshot 2018-09-24 14.16.57

 

Let’s first look at the First Strike Return Patterns of Novak Djokovic (the first 2-shot return combination pattern) – by the way, these are all ground stroke combinations listed in the charts above (1 & 2).  In my online course -> Transform Your Practice Court, you can learn more detailed information about how to practice the 2-shot sequential combinations and how better performance on these 2-shot combinations will produce more winning points.

Chart 1 displays the first 2-shot combinations for the Serve and Return game of Djokovic, divided into how many combinations were played from the Deuce and AD Court.  The first 2-shots played by a player are called the First Strike (FS) Combinations.  For example, Novak played 24 BH/BH FS Return Combinations and 3 FH/FH FS Return Combinations.

If you look at Chart 2,

Novak was 10/24, winning 42% of the points played on the BH/BH combo, he played almost twice as many BH/BH combos from Deuce Court (15) than AD Court (9) – see Chart 1.  That’s interesting, it tells you that Del Potro was hitting a lot of IR Deuce Serves (‘T’ serves) to Djokovic’s BH pulling him to the middle of the court.

3/3 winning 100% of the points when playing a FH/FH FS Return combo

Novak was 33% when playing a FH/BH (5/15) and 67% (10/15) when playing a BH/FH on the First Strike Combinations.  He played approximately the same number of these two combinations from Deuce and AD Court.  See Chart 1

Although Djokovic won 100% of the FH/FH combinations, the statistic that is much more impressive is 67% when playing a BH/FH combination, and even 42% when forced to play a BH/BH combination.  Many players are unable to maintain this type of consistency with their BH Return and BH R1.  I’ve put together the Top 7 First Strike Backhands video to highlight the BH/BH and BH/FH combinations for a player to rehearse in practice.  It’s important to spend some time repeating these 2-shot FS Combinations and become more familiar with the movement patterns and contact moves that are associated with being more successful on the first 2-shots.

 

Now, lets’ take a closer look at Novak’s FS Combinations when Serving.

Chart 3

Screenshot 2018-09-27 11.22.41

When I have players rehearse their Serve, I want to avoid too much Serve practice in “isolation” – meaning I want to limit the amount of serves a player practices without resetting and playing the S1 (first shot after the serve).  The main reason for this is I’ve measured a noticeable difference in performance over time between players who only practice the Serve over and over again, and the players that practice the Serve while resetting and playing the S1.  The rehearsal is much more realistic because it helps the player integrate the 2-shot combination with the most efficient rhythm and timing.  This may seem like a small detail, however, it makes a big difference with a player’s ability to perform at higher levels of play if their rehearsal practice mirrors what actually occurs in match play.

As you can see in Chart 3, Djokovic won 82% of the OR/FH S/S1 Combination.  The OR (Outside-Run) Serve is a serve that pulls the return player to the outside of the court, another name for this serve is a ‘wide’ or ‘alley’ serve.  I have replaced using wide or alley serve with outside-run because the former tells a player what ‘they’ are doing and the latter leads a player to determine ‘how’ their serve is affecting their opponent (return player).  Novak was 18/22 when he played an Outside-Run Serve followed by a Forehand.  He activated this OR/FH pattern twice as much to Deuce Court (15) than AD Court (7) – see Chart 1.

Novak played 31 IR/FH Combinations when Serving and won 17 for 52%.  He played the IR/FH pattern 3X more often to Deuce court (22) than AD Court (9).   This is important data to recognize, Djokovic was intentional forcing Del Potro to play BH Returns from the Deuce side as he pulled Del Potro towards the middle of the court.

Novak was 9/15, 60% when playing the IR/BH Combination.  He played the IR/BH pattern twice as much to AD Court (10) than Deuce Court (5) – see Chart 1.   Djokovic was purposefully forcing Delpo to run inside from the AD Court with this IR/BH First Strike pattern and anticipating a BH to reverse Delpo back into the AD court so he had to play a BH on the R1.

When you are coaching a player, this data can be useful when looking at what S/S1 Combinations are successful and which ones could use more practice.  The player will always want to rehearse all the combinations in practice so that he/she can recall them in match play based on the ones that have the most success versus their opponent.  In the case of Djokovic’s in this match, his OR/BH combo was not as effective vs. Delpo in these US Open Finals as the OR/FH combo or the IR/FH.

I created the Top 7 First Strike Forehand for S/S1 and R/R1 to highlight the most popular FS Combinations to rehearse in practice.  These are critical to master when playing the strongest groundstroke of your game in the first 2-shots.

 

In 2017 I published one of the first resources focusing on 2-shot combinations.  The #1 Best Selling Book, 7 On Court Strategies to Experience Your Play State,  helps a player develop a new mindset to transform a practice to look and feel more like match play.  This resource is a good place to begin your journey as a player or coach.  The most often complaint I used to hear from players when they lost a tennis match was “Coach, I didn’t play the way I practiced!”  Players now respond with a better explanation and examination of their match play as they are more intentionally designing and planning their 2-shot First Strike Serve and Return Combinations.  It’s no more, “I couldn’t hit a Forehand or my Serve was crap, it’s now – Coach, I need more practice with my S/S1 and R/R1 combinations!”  After all, if 6 out of 10 points end within the First 4 Shots – then practicing these combinations is critical to win more of those 6 out of 10 points.

Now that we’ve looked on the FS Combinations for Novak, let’s gaze into the other data I discovered from the 2018 Men’s US Open Final.

Chart 4

Screenshot 2018-09-27 11.52.56

 

Chart 4 is data that will be accessible to every parent, player, and coach in the world on my new App – Tennis MapPLay coming out this Fall 2018.  This unique system of organizing the shot rally length is where the ‘rubber meets the road’.  As we can see here, Djokovic was extremely successfully in the S/S1 Win/Loss shot rally length.  38/47 when the point ended 0-3 shots, 81%!  This confidence he gained on his Serve was enough to bridge the gap created by his R/R1 Win/Loss shot rally length, 14/42 for 34%.

If we notice the next two shots, the S2/S3 and R2/R3 combinations and points ending in this building phase of the point, Djokovic was 18/31 – 58% on the S2/S3 combination and 9/17 – 53% on the R2/R3 combination, almost identical percentages when the point ended on the next 2 shots of the point.

When the point entered the Extended Rally Shot Length of the point, Novak was 19/36 – 53% on the S+9 when Serving, and 10/24 – 42% on the R+9 when Returning.  It seems that his confidence extended to the long rallies when Serving rather than Returning, players that begin the point well tend to play out the point with confidence more often, we see it here with Djokovic.

Now let’s look at the winning percentages for each of the 3 sections of the point

  1. First Strike (Beginning Phase) 0-4 shots
  2. Patterns of Play (Building Phase)  5-8 shots
  3. Extended Rally (Rally Phase) +9 shots

 

Chart 5

Screenshot 2018-09-27 12.07.09

 

Chart 5 is what I call the Match Analysis Chart which displays the overall data from the match with regards to rally length inside the 3 sections of a point as well as their winning percentages.

Novak Won 109/198 – 55% and Lost 89/198 – 45% overall for the match,  in my book, 7 On Court Strategies, I explained in Chapter One, ‘Why Do You Play?’ that winning by a little can lead you to winning a lot!  Craig O’Shannessy wrote an article in July 2016 called ‘The Percentages That Separate Djokovic and The Top 10’.  As I explained in this Chapter and after reflecting on this data, it only takes a small margin to win big – another US Open Title!

These statistics above reveal where and when Djokovic won and lost points throughout the match, the majority being in the First 4 Shots of the point.  Now, if you’re not familiar with this type of data and wondering if this type of data is similar for USTA Men and Women 2.0 – 5.0 singles and doubles, College players, Junior Tournament and High School players?  The answer is a resounding “YES!”

Where Djokovic won the match was being able to find the FS 2-shot combinations that were effective against his opponent, then follow with the next 2-shot combination.

69% of the total points played were 0-8 shots, 7 out of 10 points in this match ended here 

Djokovic won 57% of those 7/10 points, and 43% of the remaining 3/10 points played 

Mapping Shot Rally Length in match play combined with the First 2-shot Combination pattern is one of the prime features in my upcoming App – Tennis MapPlay.  Look for the App in the iTunes Store this Fall 2018 to develop and Transform your Practice Court.

IMG_3788

IMG_3789

Federer Serve vs. Cilic GAME POINT

Federer’s Serve vs. Cilic in the 2018 Australian Open was sensational.  The following chart displays where Federer chose to serve on GAME POINT of each Serve Game in the match vs. Cilic.

Federer served a total of 23 Game Points on his Serve.  He won 21 of those Game Points.

In the 2nd Set Tiebreaker, Federer served 6 points, winning 4 of those points.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 11.43.47 AM

Federer served 3 Inside Run Serves, he was 1/1 from the Deuce Court and 1/2 from AD Court.  Federer served 3 Outside Run Serves, he was 2/2 from Deuce Court and 0/1 from AD Court.  These two mini-breaks of serve by Cilic was enough to win the 2nd Set Tiebreaker 7-5.  Notice that Federer did not hit a Cage Serve in the Tiebreaker.

Federer hit 134 successful serves in the entire match vs. Cilic.  Here’s the breakdown of Inside Run/Cage/Outside Run Serves.

Federer’s winning % for the match was 72% (97/134) – 3 double faults in the match were not counted in the data here, these are strictly made serves in the match and their corresponding location.

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 8.40.46 AM

 

This great information in the fact that Federer was unpredictable with his serve placement overall in the match and he only choose hit 20/134 (15%) Cage Serves into the body of Cilic, and 0% in the tiebreaker set.

Now to the most important analytics, where did Federer play his Serve on GAME POINT!  Here we go ->

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 8.20.10 AM

 

Federer won 8/9 Serves on GAME POINT when he hit an Inside Run Serve.

He won 3/3 on the IR Serve to Cilic’s Backhand in the Deuce Court.

He won 5/6 on the IR Serve to Cilic’s Forehand in the AD Court.

IRunServe

Federer won 10/12 Serves on GAME POINT when he hit an Outside Run Serve.

He won 3/3 on the OR Serve to Cilic’s Forehand in the Deuce Court.

He won 7/9 on the OR Serve to Cilic’s Backhand in the AD Court.

ORunServe

He was 2/2 when Fed chose on GAME POINT to serve to the body of Cilic (Cage Serve).

ServeCages

Next is the breakdown of # of hits per point on GAME POINT when Federer was Serving.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 12.39.38 PM

As you can see, Fed was accurate when it was GAME POINT on his serve, focus level very high.  He was broken 2x during the 5 set match, one time in the 6th game of the 4th Set, rally length was 4 shots.  The other service break was in the same 4th Set, the 8th game, the rally length was 8 shots.

The 7 out of 11 games he won ended either on a rally length of 1 or 3 (0-4 shots).

64% of GAME POINTS when Roger was Serving ended in the First Strike phase of the point.

 

One of the main focuses of Transforming the Practice Court is players spend a lot of time on the Serve and the S1 (+1 FH or BH after the Serve).  I’m finding the more time players spend on this sequence in practice, they are demonstrating higher levels of performance on these 2 shots in match play with regards to 3 main areas:

  • Focus
  • Familiarity (resetting better after the Serve to play the S1
  • Knowledge (self-aware that approximately 6 out of 10 match points end here)

 

Link to Serve/S1 practice (medicine ball & shadowing serve)

Link to Serve/S1 practice (court)

Link to Serve/S1BH practice (wall)

Link to Serve/S1FH practice (wall)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Setting Goals to the Present Moment

As you begin a new year, setting new goals is always exciting.  Something to think about is mapping those goals to the present moment.  The main objective is to achieve each goal within a certain time frame, this is typically the most difficult thing to do.  So many distractions can keep you from getting what you want.  Here is a brief outline of how to look at setting your goals towards the present moment and fulfill each one of them daily.

goal-setting-photo

 

Start with a:

Someday Goal :  What’s the ONE thing I want to do someday?

Five-Year Goal :   This goal is based on the “someday” goal.  What’s the ONE thing I like to do in the next five years?

One-Year Goal:  This goal is based on the “five-year” goal.  What’s the ONE thing I can do this year?

Monthly Goal:  Based on the “one-year” goal.  What’s the ONE thing I can do this month?

Weekly Goal:  From the “monthly” goal, what’s the ONE thing I can accomplish this week?

Daily Goal:  From the “weekly” goal, what’s the ONE thing I can accomplish today?

 

how to make a goal a reality

 

The best way to accomplish your BIG goals is to reverse engineer the goal and then break it down into pieces that fit together like a jig-saw puzzle.  After making your list of the “pieces” that make up the BIG picture (goal), you could prioritize them if you’d like or sometimes if you just get started on laying one piece down (do a small task), you’ll find that the organizing starts to fall in place more automatically.  Getting started is the hardest step to take, and then momentum takes over and you’ll be on your way.

Writing these all down with PEN and PAPER is a powerful exercise to tackle first, then transcribe your notes to digital form to stay organized (if you choose).  I have a daily journal that I write all my thoughts in and these ideas turn into projects and from there I begin to reverse engineer them into smaller tasks.

 

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Sometimes you just need someone to brainstorm your ideas with, if that’s the case, go for it!  The only thing holding you back from getting what you want is YOU!  So, take a leap of faith, contact a friend or colleague that will help you through your thought process by listening and asking objective questions to lead you towards more detail of what you really what to achieve.

All the best in 2018!

Styrling

 

 

Why do You Play?

Below is an excerpt from the Chapter “Why do You Play?” in my new book 7 On Court Strategies to Experience Your Play State.  I explore the idea of winning EVERY TIME You Play in this book – pick up your copy today Click here at Amazon.com

 

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. 

                                            –  Fred Rogers

 

Why do you play? There are varied reasons why you may play the game of tennis. Some of us play for the simple enjoyment to interact with friends and family, others for competition and physical exercise, and then some of us play to relax and release the tension and pressure from our jobs or school. For whatever reason you decide to play tennis, it always leads to keeping score with someone winning and someone losing. Sometimes you win because you are more skilled than the other player, other times it may be a combination of being stronger mentally and emotionally than your opponent. Whatever way you happen to win in the score, being self-aware of how you win is rarely as valuable as the self-awareness gained when you lose on the scoreboard. My confidence in this statement is from observing players who win and lose and observing how they respond to each result. My belief is founded on the idea that winning and losing in the score can actually reveal the ‘why’ in playing the game.

Here is a fascinating quote from a recent article by Craig O’Shannessy July 2016 titled, The Percentages That Separate Djokovic And The Top 10:

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis shows that the current players in the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings have won, on average, just 53.2 per cent of their points the 2016 season. The flip side of the coin is also sobering to contemplate: Top 10 players average losing 47 per cent of all the points they play.

Reflecting on this data, if some of the greatest players in the World are losing 47 per cent of all the points they play, then defining why one plays the game is important. There is certainly more players losing tennis matches than winning them. In a tournament draw of 64 players, there are 63 players losing and one player winning. Why and how a player responds when losing points and matches is an important question to ponder in a quest to discover and advance toward growing and improving their game. The tension of losing can change or form the why, when, and how to play again because it gives a player the opportunity to explore more options for improvement to win more often. The key is to find ways to play that will really add to your enjoyment of the sport and the value of the lessons that can be learned from tennis. You will win and lose points like a roller coaster ride drifting up and down the track. The most important thing to realize is how you respond when you lose points because there will be a lot of them in playing this game. The first idea to grasp is your response to losing will determine how much and how often you win.    

 

The words printed here are concepts.  You must go through the experiences.
– St. Augustine

 

Take a moment to reflect on the last tennis match you lost. How long did you reflect on the match afterward? How many times did you lose that match – once, twice, three times in your mind? How would you describe your mental state after losing? Do you easily get over losing and move on to the next thing without much thought, or does losing torment you to some degree? Whichever way you slice it, coming to a point of simple and objective reflection can really help and become the catalyst for growth. I would say that some amount of agony over losing serves as a form of motivational energy. Also, you don’t have to lose in order to improve. Even in winning you can reflect on points or games that were lost and then create objectives for training so that more points are won moving forward. In fact, I love to win more than I hate to lose. A champion’s mindset is exemplified through a consistent effort to become the best version of themselves on and off the court.

In an evenly played match, you may win very close to the same amount of points that you lose. If you win 55% of the points, you will win 99% of the time with the exception being losing close sets, while winning relative blow out sets.

 

The idea being that winning by a little can lead to winning a lot.

 

Taking the time to separate the losing points versus winning points can make a huge difference in moving forward in the game. You will lose as many points as you win, there will be times you are up or down in the game.

To give a bit of a preview of the value of this book, I am sharing some strategies to help keep you in the moment and enjoying the game. The strategy of ‘Ball-Player’ in the pages ahead explain how to shift your visual perspective in the present moment. Being in the present moment is the key to unlocking your best performances. ‘Spot on the Ball’ is a challenge of awareness to experience the art of visualizing where you want to contact the ball to control trajectory and direction of your shot. Play Patterns That Run, Reverse, and Cage is a chapter about how combinations of shots tell a story of how the match is playing out. Once the story is understood, then maintaining the same story or changing to a new plot becomes more realistic. Stories have beginnings, building parts, and finishing pieces. If someone asks how did you play that match the other day, you could recall the match in story-form. ‘1-2, Reset’ is a challenge to experience how to let the previous shot go, then immediately shift attention onto the next shot in a two-ball sequence. As a player, you will learn to see in the immediate present, neither thinking about the past or focusing too far into the future.

Play Patterns That Work

There are many different types of patterns of play in the game of tennis.  How can we improve the efficiency with which we recall and employ different patterns of play.  Many of the patterns of play that I have seen from others and taught previously myself, are not altogether logical or easy to recall. We as players begin with good intentions to stick to our patterns of play, but then there are many factors that cause us to forget our plans for play. One of the most important factors are the feelings of pressure we feel when we compete.  Yes, pressure, that ugly word that creeps into our minds and ruins the calm demeanor we want to maintain throughout the entire match.  In the spirit of play patterns that work, we can bridge a sometimes overwhelming gap between the ability to make decisions in the moment of play and preplanned decisions that happen before the first ball is played.

There are some best practices in doing our preplanning, including simplifying and chunking.  Chunking is the strategy of breaking down strings of information into bite-sized pieces so the brain can process more easily and faster.  One of the main reasons the brain needs this assistance is because working memory, which is the temporary workspace where we control and process information, holds a limited amount of information at one time.  Think of working memory as equivalent to being mentally online.   

Simplifying and chunking is a powerful way to remember and recall information, in this case patterns of play, quickly and effectively.  Word choice matters in how we present strategy, because we want our words to express as concisely as possible the meaning we want without sacrificing important details. We remember ideas or patterns better in story form, so why not tell a story about how you are going to play patterns in your next match. By telling a story I am emphasizing a meaningful connection between playing shots to move an opponent wherever and however I’d like.  A story as beginning, building, and finishing (ending) parts – if someone asks you how did you play that match the other day, you could recall the match in story-form.  For example, I started the match by running my opponent side to side, then I discovered they did that really well so I began to reverse and cage them keeping them unbalanced and disturbing their rhythm and timing.  It was great, I felt like a puppet master just directing my opponent’s every move.

Run, Cage, Reverse.  I use three words combined in 2-shot play patterns, to tell a specific story about how a player will dictate a point and control their opponent.   Run as an action shows that the opponent will be moving in every direction.  When you run a player you are pressuring their movement.  The player will “run” a player in a certain direction, side-to-side, up-and-back, angle-to-angle.  To Cage works on the opponent to keep them contained.  When they are “caged” – their movement is limited!  Here the player restricts the time and space of another player has to perform a task with freedom.  Another way to understand it is to “hand-cuff” or “jam” an opponent.  Reversing a player means that a player will intentionally create situations where they can make an opponent run in one direction, then reverse their direction 180 degrees.  When you reverse a player, you are disrupting their balance and rhythm.  For example, when the player hits a ball deep in the corner, and the opponent is resetting to the center, the player will hit right back to the same corner. This is also known as ‘hitting behind the opponent.’  When the player was running forward for a drop-shot, you hit a lob over their head and reversed them to retrieve the shot.

Play patterns that work made up of simple word associations that tell a particular story of ways to win points.  There are nine 2-shot play patterns that work:

1.  Run / Run

2.  Run / Reverse

3.  Run / Cage

4.  Reverse / Run

5.  Reverse / Reverse

6.  Reverse / Cage

7.  Cage / Run

8.  Cage / Reverse

9.  Cage / Cage

Two shot patterns can be used discover quickly in a match your opponents strengths and weaknesses that relate to movement, time and space, as well as rhythm and balance.  Challenging a player in these areas at the right moment can cause a massive shift in momentum and flow of a match.  For example:  Its pretty important to cage a good player when they run you to the outside of the court.  In effect, you neutralize the point by playing back deep to the middle and taking away your opponents ability to hit an angle back to make you run again.  The key phrase here is “deep to the middle”, a short response or deep angle will give your opponent the opportunity to change direction on you – now you are running and reacting.  My #1 player on my high school team who is Top 10 in North Carolina played a Top 10 in South Carolina pre-season tournament finals.  The main reason my player won the match in the end was she caged her opponent who ran side-to-side very well.  My player neutralized her opponent and many times forced her on the defense after being caged.  A Cage/Run pattern was used to dictate the points.  Testing a player’s movement is one of the first ways to determine the athleticism of your opponent.  It’s one of the first strategies I have players initiate with their opponents to see if they can play the ball on the run.  One thing to have good technique, quite another to be able to maintain that good technique while playing a shot on the run.  I had an adult player who came to me and wanting to beat a certain player who just seemed to be able to hit that perfect lob every time.  My question to her was, “Can they hit that perfect lob while on the run?”  The player responded, “Hmmm, I never thought of making her hit the lob on the run.”  Yes, challenge the player with perfect technique – make them run!  Luring your opponent first by running them can set up the reverse pattern.  Reversing a player calls out their agility skill of quickness and balance.  Change of direction requires a player to sustain balance and counter-balance while moving to play the ball.  Some players may guard the reverse pattern too much and that opens up for the run while other players take off to soon to run and then the reverse catches them off balance.  I was coaching another Top 20 player from South Carolina and her ability to bait-and-switch, run/reverse or reverse/run players was her advantage.  She has begun to beat players more regularly in the Top 10 because of this two-shot pattern sequence.  It was discovered in my conversations with my player that so many of the top players in the State moved extremely well from corner to corner.  When faced with the decision to anticipate the run or the reverse, the ability to change direction was the difference between winning and losing points.

Why do I recommend two shot patterns?  Two shot patterns help players stay in the present moment. When players think too far ahead or with too much detail, they get caught up somewhere other than executing their shot.  Ideally the player’s mind will be as quiet as possible as they play. A quiet mind is one of the hallmarks of a play state mind. We want our players to stay in the Flow State for as long an extended period of time as possible, and with minimal breaks in flow.  Not only does this calm your thinking and keep it simple to execute, it lines up with the data as described in greater detail in the chapter First Strike Tennis.  Rally length data as displayed in this chapter “First Strike Tennis” is the foundation by which these Run/Cage/Reverse 2-shot play patterns were developed.  The patterns compliment the idea that points are short on average at every level of play and the easier it is to remember and recall your plan, the better your chances of winning the point.  As more data continues to be collected from every level of play including National Juniors 12 – 18, High School Tennis, Collegiate Tennis, and the Professional Tours that 55-70% of all points end in 0-4 shots.  The ability to simplify and recall mindful play patterns that tell a story while in the moment will likely lead to maintaining and prolonging longer cycles of your play state, or playing in the zone.

Chapter: ‘Play Patterns That Work’ from my new book

7 On Court Strategies To Experience Your ‘Play State’ – How To Win Every Time You Play

coach on court. 2016

Hacking Flow For Optimal Tennis Performance

Flow is the simplest of terms is an optimal state of consciousness, a peak state where we both feel and perform our best.  In my upcoming book, 7 On Court Strategies To Experience Your Play State:  How to Win Every Time You Play, I discuss the advantage of why being in the Flow State is the most powerful influencer of winning.  As Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Ned Hallowell said, “Flow naturally catapults you to a level you’re not naturally in, flow naturally transforms a weakling into a muscleman, a sketcher into an artist, a dancer into a ballerina, a plodder into a sprinter, an ordinary person into someone extraordinary.”

Everything you do, you do better in flow, from baking your favorite food, to planning a vacation, to solving a business plan, to playing tennis.  Flow drives optimal performance and accelerates performance.  Researchers now believe that flow sits at the core of almost every athletic championship and why so many champions remain at the top of their sport for longer durations of time – those athletes simply master and get in the flow state for longer periods of time and more often than others.  In this blog, I’d like to dive into one of the most fascinating ideas I’ve ever discovered when it comes to hacking flow.  Overall, there are 4 varieties of hacking flow, external triggers, internal triggers, social triggers, and creative triggers.  There are several external triggers that hack flow.  External triggers are qualities in the environment that drive people deeper into the zone.

hacking growth

The term “Hacking” comes from the electronic world wherein hackers were originally found in tinkering with technology in an attempt to improve performance.  Although the word has since taken on a negative connotation, it is a powerful way to discover how to maximize human performance – and in this particular example, winning when you play on a tennis court.  In this case instead of hacking external technologies, the focus will be on hacking internal technologies, our own psychology and neurology.  Hacking flow then refers to any action performed that propels us into flow.

Focus is the goal of getting more into the flow.  Risk is one external trigger that is a powerful way to hack flow.  Using risk as a “flow hack” can be an extremely potent trigger because flow proceeds from focus and consequences catch our attention.  Not only do consequences catch our attention, they also drive neurochemistry.  As risk increases, so do two nature chemicals in our brain release.  They are norepinephrine and dopamine.  Norepinephrine is a chemical released from the sympathetic nervous system in response to stress.  One of the major advantages of norepinephrine being released is it causes an increase in the amount of oxygen going to our brain – this helps us think clearer and faster.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.  Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.  Our brain uses these two to amplify focus and enhance performance.  Playing with this trigger often produces long-lasting effects:  risk takers are transformed into risk seekers.  Risk moves from being a threat to be avoided to a challenge to be risen toward.  This is the major reason I change the word “drills” to “challenges”.  Drills originally came to be known of instruction or training in military exercises.  Challenges are an invitation or call to take part in a contest or competition.  I’ve found especially around young players that using the phrase, “Alright, here’s our next challenge!”  The response physically and emotionally is so much more positive and the player or players are motivated 100x more to participate than when I use to say, “Alright, the next drill is….”.

Being challenged is a risky proposition, there will be winners and losers (in the score), there could be embarrassment; physical, mental, and emotionally stress – but that’s exactly the point – it’s a powerful trigger towards playing in the zone, in flow.  Using the word challenge can only push you towards the flow state, it’s like having a great pair of tennis shoes to begin.  When risk is a challenge, fear becomes a compass – literally pointing players in the direction they need to go next, the direction that produces more flow.  As neuropsychologist Barbara Sahakian, the University of Cambridge, England, says, “To really achieve anything, you have to be able to tolerate and ENJOY risk.  It has to become a challenge to look forward to.  To make exceptional discoveries, you absolutely need risk – you will never have a breakthrough without it.”

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I have witnessed over 20 years of coaching, the players that embrace risk (I call it in my book, “embracing the pressure”) always push through and win every time they play.  They may not win in the score in every match or competition, but they develop towards greatness – a sense of achieving more than they believed.  There is a sense of fulfillment and learning to find joy in the journey of becoming better players and human beings.  I’ve also witnessed this phenomenal idea of embracing risk watching professional players play the game.  The best players have always had a sense of rising to the occasion, looking fear in the face, embracing all the risk of the moment, and going for it!  Players of the past like Graf, Evert, Navratilova, Conners, Lendl, Agassi, and Sampras – Players in modern times like Serena, Sharapova, Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic.  These players embody risk taking and playing in flow.

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Certainly taking risks is needed for you to activate flow.  There are different types of risk taking, physical, mental, social, emotional and creative risks.  The application of imagination – a very short definition of creativity is all about mental chance taking.  The game of tennis is a very mental challenge, and taking risk is something that must be embraced to be your best.  And the risk is real because losing is real – however you can win every time you play -….. stay tuned for the book and more to follow 🙂

Hacking flow requires full commitment to the process or the journey – and it must be ferocious.  Accelerated performance needs unyielding focus and commitment, coaches that design training environments that create a safe space for taking risks is one where players will thrive and play in flow more often.  They will “Win Every Time They Play!”

 

Transforming the Practice Court – School of Tennis

Transforming the Practice Court is an innovative project to educate, inspire, and motivate tennis coaches to re-think and re-organize the ways we train players for the 21st century.  This project is more about innovating the old, tried and true methods of coaching towards a strategic mindset of transforming our players on the practice court with the necessary tools they need to succeed on the match court.

One of the biggest gaps in becoming a professional tennis coach and excelling in the art of coaching is mentorship and apprenticeship opportunities.  The School of Tennis provides for this type of opportunity to any tennis coach looking to advance the pursuit of becoming a better coach.  Transforming the Practice Court is the 1st course being offered by Styrling Strother to provide a pathway for you to become your best.  After being mentored by some of the best coaches in the industry, Styrling’s passion is to raise the bar of excellence in tennis coaching through interactive mastermind environments and personal one-on-one coaching.